Three Women: Snow (Toshiko Sato)

Snow borne sorrow

Winter was the time they killed the ducks; salted the flesh for the coming season. She had come to associate the first fall of snow with the harsh noise of frightened birds, watching the flakes falling outside the windows of the farmhouse with more than a twinge of anxiety. She was a vegetarian now but it was difficult to know whether the culling of the animals had been a formative part of her decision to forgo meat.

Her uncle Yukio used the warm blood to practise calligraphy on the white snow: great streaks of darkest red steaming as they melted into the softness. In the spring when the frosts thawed the grass would be stained and blackened. That an act of butchery could produce such graceful writing seemed wrong to her. Haiku were supposed to be born out of art and sensitivity, sublime poetry for the soul.

Her parents had returned to Osaka from Britain when she was barely two years old to a country both changing and unchanging. Historical traditions were being phased out by the encroaching industrialisation of the islands but the old hostilities against gaijin remained. They had been considered Nikkeijin but not truly Japanese. Half-foreigners. In desperation her father had taken them away from the city's ethnocentrism to the old family seat in the country. They had swapped the dichotomy of skyscraper and wood for a rural backwater of mud and feathers.

She had been too young to remember life away from the tiled huts and animal pens yet part of her had picked up on her parents' awkwardness in an agricultural society. They had been in the RAF, used to the noise of the aircraft and the military regimen. To have their mornings start with the crowing of a cockerel in place of reveille unsettled them. They'd joked about it constantly though there was always a slight edge to their laughter. A feeling perhaps that they'd come down in the world. Toshiko had found it hard to understand why they'd chosen to swap a life in the freedom of the air for an existence rooted to the soil, the mundane.

It was only natural that she too had shunned the hardy simplicity of the farm as she grew older. She forced herself to improve her English as another way of escaping her ties to the land, dreaming of liberty in America. But when her parents had finally decided to leave the farm she found herself in the drab, damp summer of England, lost in the winding roads, and the dreadful food, and the wild uninhibited behaviour. After the claustrophobic etiquette of Japan she ought to have found it exhilarating. Instead she was terrified.

She swapped the physical for the intellectual. Turned her back on the land and eschewed manual work for the more esoterical pursuits of university. In Japan her father had shouldered her lack of interest stoically, now he and her mother embraced her plans for university with exuberance. Afterwards when she had started to earn a decent salary she'd tried to pay back the money but he'd refused to countenance the idea that she owed him anything.

As she looked, in the wet nights of Cardiff, through her photograph albums she noticed for the first time how she always appeared on the edge of the snaps as if unable to partake in the natural merriment of the moment. Almost like a passerby caught by accident in the careless glance of the lens. She didn't consider herself unhappy, just empty. Like one of her uncle's ducks laid out on the ice.

When the first snows came to the city and drifted down over the Plas to coat the ground in grey slime she found part of her longing for a slash of colour, an opportunity to finally feel something. Ianto, sensing a change in her the rest of the team missed, had taken to lending her DVDs in a misplaced attempt to give her focus.

"Do you like Alien Nation?" he asked awkwardly one cold afternoon..

It wasn't until the others had stared aghast at her tears that she realised with some embarrassment she'd misheard the question.